One of her former students at St. James, Cissie Willets, wrote in January that it was because of Sister Emma Cecilia’s compassionate influence on her twin brother, Ben Martin, that he was able to overcome a learning disability and is today a doctor in South Carolina. Sister Emma Cecilia was surprised to read those comments (on the Ursuline Web site under “Memories With Faithful Friends”), and is quick to share the praise for Dr. Martin’s success.
“I’m only a mouthpiece, let’s give God the credit,” she said. “We don’t realize what we do for other people.”
She next spent two years at Holy Cross School, a public school in Holy Cross, Ky., teaching middle and upper grades. One cold day in January, a teacher took some older students ice-skating on the pond. Sister Emma Cecilia was on lunch duty, and one young boy kept tugging on her sleeve, trying to get her attention. She was dealing with another student and asked the young boy to wait, but soon found out what he wanted to tell her – the school was on fire. No one was hurt, but the teachers had to teach in three different locations the rest of the year.
In 1958, she became a principal at St. Charles School in Bardwell, in far western Kentucky. She and one other sister (Sister Mary Colletta Drury) did everything at the school. In 1960, she moved to Blessed Mother School in Owensboro, where she could do part-time teaching at Brescia College. Later, she taught at Sts. Joseph and Paul School, the same school she had attended. By then there was no high school.
“I’d tell the students, ‘I went to school here for 12 years.’ Their eyes would get real big,” she said with a smile.
Sister Frances Miriam Spalding lived with Sister Emma Cecilia when they taught at Sts. Joseph and Paul, and the two have been friends ever since. “We’d have fun with her people, her older sister would take us out to eat,” Sister Frances Miriam said. These days, the two ride together to Owensboro Medical Health System to take Communion to the sick, and play cards together in the evening.
In 1966, as she was about to start the year at Sts. Joseph and Paul, she was asked to become principal at St. Anthony School in Axtel, Ky., where the principal had suffered a heart attack. The school was two weeks late in opening, and it had to open the next Monday. “I was supposed to be there only two weeks, but I spent four years,” she said. One of the teachers she lived with at Axtel was Sister George Mary Hagan, and the two have remained friends ever since.
“She was a wonderful principal, right there when you needed her,” Sister George Mary said. “Her upbeat, cheerful attitude,” led to their friendship. “Even when we had snow days, we enjoyed them,” she said.
Friends loaned them pontoon boats to take rides on Rough River, Sister George Mary said. “We invited the (nearby) sisters out to Axtel for boat rides,” she said.
Artist and craftswoman
Sister Emma Cecilia returned to Sts. Joseph and Paul for a year in 1970, and then moved on to Owensboro Catholic High School from 1971-82, teaching art and history.
She received her undergraduate degree in art from the College of St. Francis in Joliet, Ill., then a master’s degree with an emphasis on sculpture from Notre Dame.